By Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press
There were some golden moments, a number of surprises and some unforgettable magic across the sports world in 2014. Here’s a look back at 10 memorable Canadian stories:
Eugenie Bouchard showed she had arrived on the women’s tennis scene by reaching the semifinals at the Australian Open last January. The young Canadian star proved it was no fluke a few months later by making the final four at the French Open.
Bouchard took it one step further at Wimbledon with a performance that really got the country’s attention.
She dispatched three top-20 opponents en route to the final without dropping a set. Bouchard’s semifinal win over Simona Halep made her the first Canadian to reach a Grand Slam singles final in the modern era.
Her effort on the hallowed All-England Club grass courts had tennis observers and non-sports fans talking from coast to coast. Bouchard eventually met her match in the final, dropping a 6-3, 6-0 decision to Petra Kvitova.
Bouchard picked up her first WTA title last spring, cracked the top five in the world rankings in October and reached the season-ending WTA finals.
It’s hard to believe she’s only 20. Imagine the possibilities when she hits her prime.
Canada’s Milos Raonic also continued his strong play on the men’s tour in 2014.
He reached the Wimbledon semifinals for the first time before falling to Roger Federer. Raonic rose as high as No. 6 in the world rankings and made his first appearance at the ATP World Tour Finals.
One victory was a thorough beatdown while the other had fans biting their nails for what felt like hours.
The Canadian men’s hockey team shut out Sweden 3-0 in Sochi to win gold for the second straight Winter Olympics. The Canadian women’s team also came through with a successful title defence in a game loaded with drama.
The Americans nearly iced the victory when Kelli Stack fired the puck down the ice toward Canada’s empty net. The puck hit the post, Canada regained possession and Marie-Philip Poulin scored the tying goal seconds later.
Poulin added the winner in overtime to give Canada a 3-2 victory and its fourth straight Olympic women’s hockey gold.
It was uncharted territory for the Canadian women’s rugby team.
Canada entered last summer’s Women’s Rugby World Cup having never finished higher than fourth at the tournament. They left the event knowing that they truly belong among the sport’s elite.
With Magali Harvey and captain Kelly Russell leading the way, the Canadians held off the host French side 18-16 in a hard-fought semifinal.
Canada dropped a 21-9 decision to England in the championship game.
Harvey was named International Rugby Board women’s player of the year after the game. Russell was a finalist for the honour.
Canadian basketball made big strides over the last year on several fronts.
The national women’s team finished fifth at the world championships for its best result at the tournament in years. Andrew Wiggins of Vaughan, Ont., was selected with the first overall pick in the NBA draft â€” the second straight year that a Canadian went No. 1 â€” and the Toronto Raptors finally returned to the post-season.
Canada’s lone NBA team played in front of sellout crowds at Air Canada Centre with a few thousand more watching the first-round action outside on a big screen.
The Ontario capital is still considered a hockey town, but for the younger generation of sports fans in the city the Raptors are becoming just as important.
For a brief moment after their second straight Olympic bobsled victory, Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse tuned out the din at the Sanki Sliding Center and focused on each other.
They were near the mountain road outside the finish area, away from the cheering fans, getting in line with others for the flowers presentation.
They gave each other a knowing smile. All the hard work had paid off, all the sacrifice and effort was worthwhile, and they proved once again they were still the best duo in the world.
Their victory was one of a number of successful individual and team title defences in Sochi. Other repeat winners included freestyle skier Alex Bilodeau in moguls and a remarkable performance by Brian McKeever, who won three gold medals in cross-country skiing for the second straight Paralympics.
The Ottawa Rough Riders folded in 1996 after a long run in the nation’s capital. The CFL returned to the city in 2002 but the Renegades lasted only four seasons.
In 2014, it was the Redblacks’ turn and football fans in Ottawa welcomed the expansion team in a big way.
The atmosphere was electric on July 18 for opening night at TD Place Stadium, the first of nine straight home sellouts. However, the excitement didn’t translate into victories.
Ottawa edged Toronto 18-17 in its home opener, but the Redblacks won only one more game the entire season and scored a league-low 278 points.
It was a one-two finish that provided one of the enduring images of the Sochi Olympics.
Justine Dufour-Lapointe won gold and Chloe Dufour-Lapointe took silver in women’s moguls at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. The sisters reached out to hold hands during the flower ceremony and peacefully gazed at each other.
The snapshot from that moment made Canadians proud and generated international attention. Even tennis great Roger Federer weighed in.
“So cute, sport is great,” he tweeted with a photo of the sisters on his verified Twitter feed.
MONEY IN THE BANKS
Tiger-Cats kick returner Brandon Banks provided plenty of excitement in Hamilton’s victory over Montreal in the CFL East final.
He nearly topped himself in the Grey Cup.
Banks returned two kicks for touchdowns and had a playoff-record 226 punt return yards in the Ticats’ win over the Alouettes. In the CFL championship game, Banks electrified the Vancouver crowd with a 90-yard runback with just 35 seconds left â€” a play that would have given Hamilton the lead over Calgary.
However, a penalty flag negated his effort and the Ticats couldn’t make it back to the end zone, dropping a 20-16 decision to the Stampeders.
Golfer Nick Taylor was a star amateur who couldn’t seem to get on track at the pro level, spending five years labouring on lower-level tours.
A September breakthrough at the Web.com Tour championship gave him PGA Tour status. He played like a seasoned professional two months later and earned his first PGA Tour victory in the process.
Taylor overcame a four-shot deficit on the final day to win the Sanderson Farms Championship. The victory came with a hefty US$720,000 payday and a two-year Tour exemption.
It also ended Canada’s long victory drought.
The last Canadian-born player to win a PGA Tour event was Mike Weir back in 2007. Calgary’s Stephen Ames, a native of Trinidad and Tobago, last won in 2009.
FAREWELL TO A LEGEND
The numbers are overwhelming.
Jean Beliveau won the Stanley Cup 10 times with Montreal over his 20-year playing career and added seven more titles as an executive. Beliveau made 13 all-star game appearances, scored 507 goals and added 712 assists over 1,125 games.
He was also one of the most respected captains in Canadiens history and was simply beloved in Quebec and around the country.
Beliveau was 83 when he died on Dec. 2.
His funeral at Mary Queen of the World cathedral attracted a who’s who from the political and hockey world. Former and current players were joined by celebrities and fans alike, all who wanted to pay their respects to “Le Gros Bill.”
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